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Church of England media statement on Bishop Bell: further comment

20 November 2015


From Dr Brian Hanson

Sir, — I am grateful for the letter (13 November) from His Honour Alan Pardoe QC, which eloquently dissects the media statement concerning the Rt Revd George Bell.

The issue was raised obliquely at the recent Chichester diocesan-synod meeting (the story broke too late for inclusion in the agenda), and it was obvious from the reaction to the question that many synod members are unhappy about the way the matter was dealt with — not by the diocese — but at national level.

One deanery synod has now passed a resolution calling upon those responsible for safeguarding within the Church of England to acknowledge that safeguarding policies must be subject to the rule of law, and, in particular, that an accused person has the right to defend themselves when allegations are made against them.

Many of us are uneasy that Bishop Bell’s reputation has been destroyed by a media statement that fails to set out the facts of the allegation made more than 30 years after the Bishop’s death.

Garden Cottage
West Sussex BN44 3AG


From the Master of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, and others

Sir, — Like His Honour Alan Pardoe QC, we are disturbed by the recent church media statement over allegations concerning Bishop George Bell.

We are very mindful of the distress that has been experienced by the complainant, and it is particularly regrettable that the complaint made in 1995 was not investigated properly and referred to the appropriate authorities.

The statement is guarded in places, and implies rather than states openly the claim subsequently made in some newspapers about Bell ("George Bell was a paedophile — Church of England"). If it raises concerns about Bell’s integrity and humanity as a Christian leader, it must also, surely, raise acute concerns about the degree to which it is possible to establish certitude in cases of alleged crimes in which the perpetrators are long dead.

Some of us have worked extensively on Bell’s papers; we are not aware of any evidence there of this side of his character. That is not to say that evidence does not exist elsewhere, of course, but it does prompt our hope that something at least of the "expert independent reports" will be released, appropriately redacted, to demonstrate the strength of evidence to which allusion is made in the statement.

This is all the more important, it seems to us, given the risk of damage spilling over on to the many honourable causes with which Bell was associated. Christian internationalism, criticism of Nazi anti-Semitism, prophetic support for church unity, opposition to saturation bombing, support for the Confessing Church and the German resistance movement — these and other matters were all things on which Bell had courageous and often far-sighted things to say.

From the end of the Second World War, he was an acknowledged leader of the World Council of Churches, and was accorded immense respect and gratitude throughout the international ecumenical movement.

That estimate of him remains to this day, and many people from beyond these shores and in all Christian traditions will, therefore, be watching very closely this present case, and the part played by the Church of England in it.

c/o Trinity Hall
Cambridge CB2 1TJ

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